Despite eloquent and impassioned pleas from several delegations, Peterborough city council voted against providing any funding for The Theatre On King at council’s meeting on Monday night (March 27).
Kate Story and Ryan Kerr of The Theatre On King, along with several arts leaders and supporters, had appeared in front of council to appeal an earlier decision to deny the Theatre On King’s application for funding under the city’s community investment grant program.
Through community investment grants, the city provides funding support for not-for-profit and charitable organizations in the areas of arts and culture, social services and health, sports and recreation, and the environment. The grants from $1,000 to $15,000 support projects and special events, specific programs, or operating budgets. The funding is available once a year, but eligible organizations can apply for three-year funding.
As one of the agenda items at Monday night’s meeting, which was chaired by deputy mayor Gary Baldwin in mayor Jeff Leal’s vacation absence, councillors were voting to ratify a decision made at general committee on March 13 to endorse the disbursement of $148,828 for community investment grants to 20 not-for-profit and charitable organizations for 2023. An assessment committee of two city councillors — Alex Bierk and Keith Riel — and 11 citizen appointees had reviewed the applications for community investment grants.
For 2023, The Theatre On King (applying as Peterborough Theatre Users Group) was one of five organizations — along with the Artisans Centre Peterborough, Inspire: The Women’s Portrait Project, Junior Achievement Northern and Eastern Ontario, and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada — whose applications were not granted funding.
Both The Theatre On King and the Artisans Centre Peterborough appeared before council on Monday night to appeal the decision. Last year, The Theatre On King had received the maximum grant of $15,000 and the Artisans Centre Peterborough had received $9,250.
Ryan Kerr, artistic director of The Theatre On King, was the first delegation to appear before council. He began his remarks to council by recognizing that he was speaking to council on World Theatre Day.
According to the World Theatre Day official website, as well as celebrating theatre, the day “acts as a wake-up call for governments, politicians and institutions which have not yet recognised its value to the people and to the individual and have not yet realised its potential for economic growth.”
“It’s also The Theatre On King’s 10th anniversary,” Kerr said. “Over the past decade, TTOK has put on over 400 events, often new original work created by local artists. Thousands of audience members have come through our doors, and the space only seats 40. Shows by Peterborough artists have been developed at TTOK and then gone on to win acclaim and awards at the Chicago Fringe Festival, the Vancouver Fringe, St. John’s, and prestigious Dora Awards in Toronto … No other venue in town nurtures local professional theatre and dance.”
Kerr explained that The Theatre On King also runs workshops, provides artist and technical training and peer mentorship, supports youth theatre productions, develops programs with other community organizations such as the New Canadians Centre, the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre, PARN, Elizabeth Fry Society, Trent Radio, Public Energy, and the Peterborough Downtown Business Improvement Area (DBIA), and supports artists who are mostly within the Peterborough region.
Kerr pointed out that in 2022, The Theatre On King’s application for a community investment grant was approved for the maximum $15,000 single-year grant allowed under the program, but this year the organization received nothing.
“To go from the highest (grant possible) to zero seems inexplicable. I don’t know of any other public funder in the arts that would do this in an operating grant program. Councillor Dean Pappas had a motion passed in 2017 that the community granting program should be reviewed and I know that (the city’s Arts, Culture and Heritage Advisory Committee, now called the Arts and Culture Advisory Committee) has been requesting this for some time.”
Kerr said The Theatre On King had requested $30,000 in funding from the municipality in 2023 — double the amount it received last year and double the maximum grant under the community investment grant program.
“That may seem audacious, but the reason for the request was articulated in the application. If TTOK had that level of confirmed operating funding, our other venue revenues — box office, space rentals — and fundraising would fill in the gap. We’d have a viable space where staff are paid a small wage and rent and utilities are paid.”
Kerr said more than 1,500 people have signed an online petition to show their support for TTOK and to urge council to provide funding. He also said The Theatre On King has already raised over $15,000 in private donations since submitting its grant application in early December last year — “We certainly suspected the city would not give us $30,000” — and the organization couldn’t go back to the community to ask for more funding because the grant application has been denied.
“We can’t rely on the public to bail us out year after year,” Kerr said, his voice breaking. “We appeal to the city to recognize our small but mighty organization by investing in us, as you have in years past.”
Kerr said that, according to the City of Toronto, each dollar invested in the non-profit arts sector by the city brings in $8.26 in earned revenues.
“There’s no source of operating funding available at the provincial or federal levels for theatre venues. TTOK can’t function without paying staff and rent — it’s that simple. To suddenly tell an organization that its activities have somehow gone from the very highest ranking to the absolute bottom in one year with no explanation causes that group to suddenly have to scramble to replace those funds, which takes its efforts away from delivering its activities.”
“Such a dramatic cut threatens our existence and undermines the stability of the contemporary performing arts sector and the individual artists that TTOK supports. It will also cause a loss of thousands of dollars of economic impact for the city.”
Upon Kerr completing his presentation, there was a sole question from city council. Councillor Kevin Duguay asked Kerr how many shows The Theatre On King presents annually and the admission price charged to audiences. Kerr replied that The Theatre On King presents more than 100 shows per year and charges an average admission price of $20, with a pay-what-you-can option for those who cannot afford the admission price.
After Kerr’s delegation, Denise Stone, a board member of the Artisans Centre Peterborough, also appeared in front of council to appeal the denial of that organization’s 2023 community investment grant. No questions were posed to Stone by council after her delegation.
Following Stone’s delegation, representatives from Hearts for Joy — a non-profit organization that provides meaningful work for adults with intellectual exceptionalities — appeared before council to thank the city for a $675 community project grant which, unlike the community investment grant, is intended for smaller organizations and smaller programs and events from $250 to $1,000.
Following the Hearts for Joy presentation, which included a slide show, councillor Lesley Parnell asked a series of questions about the organization and how the community could support them.
The next eight delegations to appear before council were in support of funding for The Theatre On King.
Kate Story, artistic administrator of The Theatre On King, pointed out that the City of Peterborough is an anomaly in how it disburses community grants, with organizations in arts and culture, social services and health, sports and recreation, and the environment all vying for the same pool of limited funding.
“That model dates back to the 1950s,” Story said. “Arts and non-arts groups are competing with each other for the same funds, and my hat is off to the committee for looking over such a broad range of applications. I wonder how everyone (on the committee) can have requisite knowledge of all the sectors. It’s not just the range of sectors, but it also baffles me because there’s amateur groups judged next to professional groups and project grants are judged next to those requesting operating funding, so it’s a real broad range.”
Story described the range of arts The Theatre On King supports, including visual art, literary arts, spoken word, music, dance, media arts, and theatre, and that the organization works with “people from vulnerable populations” including youth, elderly, those living in poverty, racialized and Indigenous people, those who are immune compromised, and those living with mental illness.
Story read an endorsement of The Theatre On King from choreographer, dance artist, and director Marie-Josée Chartier.
“Even though I live in Toronto, I’m aware of the activities of The Theatre On King. This extraordinary venue is a hub for creativity, diversity, and inclusion, and has positively impacted the lives of countless individuals in Peterborough and beyond, a venue any community would be proud to nurture. I and other artists in Toronto are struck by the importance of a space that acts as a creative incubator, a performing arts training centre, an artistic catalyst all rolled into one. I think of TTOK as small in size and mighty in impact.”
Story said she was under the impression the community investment grants were intended to provide regular funding to important organizations so that they could plan ahead and make long-term commitments to partners. She noted The Theatre On King had not only received the maximum community investment grant of $15,000 in 2022, but a $13,500 community investment grant the year before that.
“So that’s two years in a row (we were) very highly ranked,” Story said. “Is it responsible to our community to take an organization overnight from ‘hero to zero’?”
Story added that, by not providing funding to an arts organization like The Theatre On King, the city “sends a message” to other government funders as well as private donors from individuals to corporations that the city does not value the organization’s work.
“The past few weeks have been very difficult, and it seems like this whole process leads to more questions than answers,” Story said, before asking councillors to show their support for The Theatre On King.
No councillors had questions for Story after she completed her presentation.
Peterborough theatre artist Sarah McNeilly then appeared before council in support of The Theatre On King. McNeilly, who is a returning member of the city’s Arts and Culture Advisory Committee, noted she was speaking as a professional theatre artist rather than as a member of that committee.
A two-time breast cancer survivor and sexual assault survivor, McNeilly premiered her acclaimed solo work Titty Cakes: A Recipe for Radical Acceptance to sold-out performances at The Theatre On King last October, with the additional support of Public Energy Performing Arts.
McNeilly provided councillors with a history lesson on the establishment in 1949 of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences — known as the Massey Commission — whose report in 1951 urged the federal government to invest public funds for non-profit organizations in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
“Since the historic Massey report, every level of Canadian government has developed and agreed upon fair and balanced ways to fund the arts. Canadian culture policy recommends that all manner of funding across the arts as well as the sciences is best administered by arms-length agencies using peer assessment. Peterborough’s community granting programs do not currently follow these best practice standards.”
“As returning councillors will remember, it was 2017 when council passed a motion (by then-councillor Dean Pappas) to review the city’s granting programs. I kindly suggest it’s time to follow through on that motion, to conduct a comprehensive review of the city’s granting programs and to ensure that they align with standard best practices for arts funding.”
McNeilly shared a personal anecdote of how important The Theatre On King has been for her work as a professional theatre artist. During the pandemic, she partnered with the organization to apply for strategic funding from the Canada Council for the Arts. Despite intense competition from thousands of artists across Canada, a national jury of arts professionals awarded McNeilly and The Theatre On King’s application with the maximum grant, allowing McNeilly to develop her acclaimed solo work.
“Thanks in part to The Theatre On King’s (2022) community investment grant, that jury could see on the application that this organization has the support of its city — it is valued. Your support speaks volume on the national stage. It gives organizations credibility and helps them leverage small amounts of city funding to successfully larger grants form larger bodies.”
McNeilly asked city councillors to find some way to provide funding for The Theatre On King, “one that does not, as per their request, take funds away from other deserving groups.”
“In my experience, unless an organization has suddenly gone defunct or (suffered) some catastrophic situation, it is highly unusual to see such drastic shifts in funding from year to year,” she said. “A cut like this doesn’t just destabilize an organization’s ongoing operations, it also seriously hinders their ability to successfully secure alternative revenue streams.”
No councillors had questions for McNeilly after she completed her presentation.
Arts supporter and local entrepreneur Paul Hickey then appeared before council to support funding for The Theatre On King. He spoke first as an investor in the arts community.
“There is an incredible network of people in this city — 80, 90 or 100 people, I’m just one of them — who stand with and behind people like Kate and Ryan at The Theatre On King,” Hickey said. “I’m an angel investor too, and I can tell you Theatre On King has done everything possible to punch above its weight. That’s exactly the kind of thing that we look for — this community of 100 or more people in Peterborough — who, along with municipal funding, step up and write some cheques and do whatever we can to make sure the lights are on the next day.”
“I just happen to be one of them who is especially up in arms because one of the organizations that’s near and dear to my heart, that I feel like I have invested in over the last few years, seems to have been cut out from the knees. That’s why I’m here. People do look at events like this as signals as to the viability of an organization, how much the organization is valued in the community, and I think that’s the one that really hits hard for us. All of us who are writing cheques and helping Kate and Ryan any possible way we can feel really sad right now because of that, because we’ve been watching this star rise for the last few years.”
Hickey then spoke as the founder and president of local advertising agency Outpost379 in downtown Peterborough about the importance of a vibrant arts sector in attracting employees to Peterborough.
“When I’m trying to woo somebody — an art director, a copy writer, a graphic designer, a producer, a director, an app developer — to Peterborough, to this city that is known more for creating engines and electricity and Evinrude motors than creative things, in this time when we are going after the creative class to create jobs that are untraditional, that are really creative, I can’t tell you how important is to these people when I bring them for a tour of Peterborough, as much as I love the Petes, I don’t take them to a Petes game. These people want to know how strong our arts and culture segment is.”
“And when they talk about arts, it’s not just big high school performances of Les Miserables, its theatre laboratories like Theatre On King. It’s really progressive, inclusive places. Today’s 20 to 40-year-old employee who wants to work at an Outpost, or a Lett Architects, or a Cambium Engineering, or a Wills Engineering, those people have an affinity of arts and inclusiveness. It’s so important to the viability of organizations like ours that we continue to show them places like Theatre On King that prove we are a really strong arts community.”
No councillors had questions for Hickey after he completed his presentation.
Local author and playwright Frank Flynn then spoke to council in support of The Theatre On King. Several of Flynn’s plays have been produced at The Theatre On King over the past decade.
“I think of buildings like The Theatre On King, Showplace, Market Hall, Artspace, Del Crary Park, and others as critical pieces of infrastructure in the same way people think of roads, medical facilities, and electrical grids as key pieces of infrastructure,” Flynn said. “These places are critical arts infrastructure. The buildings and the organizations that use them provide economic energy to our city. The return on investment in places like The Theatre On King is worthy of the city’s support. Indeed, I would say the city has a responsibility not only to safeguard taxpayer money but to safeguard our critical infrastructure, and that includes arts infrastructure. The Theatre On King is a major component of that.”
“I’m hopeful that constructive and positive discussion will follow about how the granting process can be made more user friendly, but my more pressing concern is whether we can come together to support and protect a really vital part of our downtown, that being The Theatre On King.”
“It’s the difference between a really great, progressive, happening community, and a place where people go to retire and die. And that’s not Peterborough. I’m hoping we can find a way forward.”
No councillors had questions for Flynn after he completed his presentation.
Mark Wallace, the artistic director of the theatre company New Stages Peterborough, also spoke in support of The Theatre On King.
“The Theatre On King holds a special place in our city’s art scene — there’s nothing else like it,” he said. “It is a producing arts organization and it is a venue for countless other artists. It is the city’s ‘black box space’ — the experimental, thriving, affordable theatre space where some of the best shows are seen each year.”
Wallace referred to New Stages Peterborough’s production of the acclaimed one-person play Every Brilliant Thing, starring Stratford actor Steve Ross, that was staged at The Theatre On King in early 2020 just before the pandemic. The success of that two-week run led New Stages Peterborough to bring Ross back for another production of the play for a week at the larger Market Hall.
“We would never have tried it without Theatre On King,” he noted. “There is nothing else like TTOK in the city and if it were lost there’s nothing that’s coming in to fill its place. Before I moved to Peterborough, I worked in Toronto and around the province as an actor and director for years.”
“I can say with some confidence you cannot have a thriving theatre scene without a venue like TTOK. TTOK gives a place for artists to work. It’s a place to push your boundaries as a performer, it’s an affordable place to create and perform new material, to take risks developing experimental shows, and connecting with audiences in an intimate setting.”
“There must be hundreds if not thousands of volunteer hours each year that go into keeping a venue like this going. That is has survived so long with minimal funding for much of its life is a testament to so many hours of uncompensated work holding it together. But a theatre cannot survive this way without any funding. No professional theatres rely on box office alone to survive. I know that question was asked (by councillor Duguay of Ryan Kerr), but box office revenue barely covers production costs, let alone the costs of running a venue or hiring staff.”
“So we get to the question of the night: how can a respected arts organization and a vital venue for so many groups go from the max funding of $15,000 to zero the following year, especially after a spectacular year of programming?” Wallace asked. “I think it needs to be stated that for a small arts venue like TTOK, a complete funding cut-off like this could be a killing blow, and I can’t imagine that that was the desire or intention of this decision.”
Wallace also spoke to the need for arts organizations to have stable and secure funding to plan for the year ahead, and that recent funding history and demonstrated accountability for the use of funding “should be an important part of the review process.”
After the presentation, councillor Bierk asked Wallace to speak to the difference between private business and the theatrical industry. Wallace said that, while there is commercial theatre like Toronto’s Mirvish Theatre that mounts big-budget shows, most theatre companies do not operate that way. Despite selling many tickets for the January production of Every Brilliant Thing at the Market Hall, Wallace said New Stages Peterborough still took a loss for the show, but that loss was offset by sponsorships and city funding.
“The Stratford Festival relies on public funding. Tarragon Theatre, Canadian Stage Company … you name all the major theatres throughout Canada, they rely on city funding,” Wallace said.
Following Wallace’s delegation, Peterborough actor and director Linda Kash — famed as the original Philly Cream Cheese Angel and an actor who has appeared in TV shows including Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Fargo and films including Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, and Cinderella Man — spoke in support of The Theatre On King.
Kash spoke about her parents taking her to black box theatres in Toronto as a child, which in part inspired her to become an actor.
“When you share an experience in a small black room that holds less than 50 people, bearing witness to the efforts of local storytellers, many of whom resign themselves to living life on the margins (on) shoestring budgets just for the privilege of plying their trades, of telling their story, it is much more than a nice evening out. It is a transformative event.”
“The struggles this particular theatre company faces is not due to a lack of patrons,” Kash said in reference to The Theatre On King. “It’s because of its unique and limited size and yet its ever-rising running costs that Theatre On King absolutely needs to survive with funding well beyond its ticket sales.”
“We all know that what they ask for is not a fortune, but it is a fortune to TTOK, so pulling all the funding that this very popular company relied on just doesn’t make any sense,” Kash added. “I am not politically savvy enough to know how you would find the funding to help to keep TTOK live, but I am here tonight to implore you to please try to do so. TTOK needs you but, don’t kid yourself, you need TTOK.”
No councillors had questions for Kash after she completed her presentation.
The next delegation was Alexsandra Bartley, executive director of the Kawartha Komets special needs hockey program, which was approved for a $9,240 community investment grant in 2023. After Bartley expressing her organization’s appreciation for the city’s past support and the 2023 grant, she answered questions from councillors.
After Bartley’s presentation, Terry Guiel addressed council in his role as executive director of the Peterborough Downtown Business Improvement Area (DBIA) expressing the DBIA’s support of The Theatre On King.
“I’m here to speak about its importance within the cultural health and diversity of our community, and in particular the downtown,” Guiel said, noting that the decision not to provide funding to The Theatre On King provided an opportunity for the community to hear what the organization and its work means.
As a former city councillor who sat on the committee determining community investment grants, Guiel acknowledged the difficulty of the assessment process and thanked the volunteers who participated on the committee. He suggested that consideration of funding for arts organizations could be separated from that of social service organizations, and that a three-year funding program could address issues of funding stability.
“We need to restrategize what measuring stick we use and put art on a higher level of importance and consideration,” Guiel said. “Art should never be the low-hanging fruit, the easy one to axe, in times of tight budgets — we’re always going to have tight budgets. It should be nurtured and supported.”
The DBIA has worked with The Theatre On King in the past, Guiel said, “to help animate the downtown.”
“I’ve heard people talk about the word entitlement, that maybe The Theatre On King has some entitlement. The only people that are entitled is the community. Every year we feel entitled to use their talents and their skills, we endlessly expect them to provide free service regardless of their precarious state. That needs to end.”
After Guiel’s presentation, councillor Bierk asked him whether the DBIA would be willing to provide financial assistance to The Theatre On King if the city could come up with funding.
“I think we can,” Guiel said, referring to previous funding that The Theatre On King used to support the Precarious arts festival. “To see what they were able to do with that little bit of money, it was unbelievable. I said to my staff, ‘I can’t believe they pulled all of that off.’ I would like to sit down with them; I have some ideas.”
“This is a great opportunity. Who’s worried about precedent? ‘Oh, don’t set a precedent’. Yeah, you can set a precedent once in a while. Council can do whatever the hell it wants. Set a precedent. It’s (The Theatre On King’s) 10-year anniversary.”
The final delegation in support of The Theatre On King was Dr. Laura Lawson, a family physician in Peterborough and an assistant professor of medicine at Queen’s University. She also holds a bachelor of fine arts in theatre and is a former professional dancer who trained with the National Ballet of Canada.
“I came to practice medicine in Peterborough largely because of the performing arts community here,” Dr. Lawson said, noting she performed in The Theatre On King’s ‘Small Dance for A Small Space’ festival in 2019 (the festival is returning to The Theatre On King from March 28 to April 1).
“As a physician, I would like to highlight that the arts provide a platform not only for creativity and reflection, but also for health and healing,” Dr. Lawson said. “It is a place where we can learn to see through each other’s eyes. We cultivate compassion, understanding, awareness and we plant the seeds for action and social change. The theatre is a place where community and connection are fostered, and we know that connection is the greatest predictor of our overall health and well-being.”
After pointing out the mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, Dr. Lawson also spoke to the health benefits of dance, adding that The Theatre On King holds a unique space for dance in Peterborough.
“Please don’t take away one of our few spots in the city to do so,” Dr. Lawson said, before returning to her initial statement of why she chose to practice medicine in Peterborough.
“Peterborough is facing a critical shortage of family physicians. Recruitment and retention is undoubtedly at the top of your priority list. Many of us medical folk partake in music, theatre, and dance, and I can hardly believe how many of my colleagues are involved in the performing arts — Peterborough Singers, the Theatre Guild, the list goes on and on. If you want to continue to recruit and retain physicians in this city, then you ought to strongly reflect on the choice to cut funding to one of the key theatre organizations in this city.”
“Listen to the community outcry. If your assessment process has led to the severing of funding for this essential part of our community, then your assessment process needs to change. It’s pretty simple.”
No councillors had questions for Dr. Lawson after she completed her presentation.
Later in the council meeting, before voting to consent on general committee’s recommendation for the recipients of the community investment grants, councillor Matt Crowley put forth a two-part motion to amend the recommendation.
The first part of the motion was to provide a total of $54,000 be disbursed to all organizations whose applications were denied funding, with the funding to be drawn from the city’s contingency budget. This would include the maximum grant funding of $15,000 to Peterborough Theatre Users Group (the operating name of The Theatre On King), $15,000 to the Artisans Centre Peterborough, $7,000 to Inspire: The Women’s Portrait Project, $15,000 to Junior Achievement Northern and Eastern Ontario, and $2,000 to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
The second part of Crowley’s motion was to have city staff review the grant funding application and approval process “to ensure the integrity and fairness” of the community investment grant program and report back to council with any recommended changes.
Councillors then discussed the two-part motion, with councillor Andrew Beamer saying he would not support the funding part of the motion, pointing out the city’s existing support for the arts community by referring to the 2023 budget and comparing arts funding to sports funding.
“The net municipal budget impact for the arts, culture, and heritage division and all arts programming in the 2023 budget is $5.8 million,” Beamer said. “The net municipal budget impact for the now-combined recreation and arenas division, still including the Peterborough Memorial Centre even though it’s been transferred to another division, is $3.5 million. So arts and culture at $5.8 million, recreation and arenas $3.6 (sic). So close to $6 million this year we’re investing in the arts. $6 million — we are very generous.”
The $5.8 million budget for the arts, culture, and heritage division is primarily funding for city-operated facilities including the Art Gallery of Peterborough, the Peterborough Museum & Archives, and the Peterborough Public Library (the library alone accounts for $3.5 million of the budget) and not funding for community-based arts organizations or artists.
Beamer also referred to the city’s new individual grant program for 20 artists each year at a cost of $50,000 per year over three years. He also said the majority of the $148,828 in community investment grants are going to arts programs, with only one sports organization (Kawartha Komets) receiving a $9,240 grant.
Less than half ($70,228) of the 2023 community investment grants are going to nine arts organizations, with the remainder going to culture, environment, heritage, and social services organizations as well as the Kawartha Komets.
“Would the arts community like more money?” Beamer asked. “Well, of course they would, and I’d like to give them more money. But you know who else would like more money? The police. They’ve said they need more money. Public health, EMS, social services, housing and homelessness, sports, public works. Every department, every agency, every organization would like more money … As everyone knows, there’s only one taxpayer and we need to respect that taxpayer.”
Beamer then referred to the “fair and balanced” and “independent” assessment process for the community investment grants. “We can’t hardly favour one group now over the others,” he said.
Councillor Joy Lachica responded to Beamer’s “financially based perspective” by pointing out the “many taxpayers in the City of Peterborough who are paying their taxes to live in a city that’s rich in the arts.”
“I for one can say that part of the reason that I live in downtown Peterborough is because of The Theatre On King,” Lachica said. “The cultural life of our nucleus is so vital to a good number, a large proportion, of taxpayers in Peterborough, so I will stand for and speak for the taxpayers who think it is the highest of values.”
Lachica also noted the community investment grant program includes a three-year funding option, indicating the city does believe in ongoing investment in community organizations.
In his comments on the funding motion, councillor Dave Haacke said “I did learn a few things tonight — that golf and crosswords won’t help me,” referring to Dr. Lawson’s presentation. “So that was a bit of a surprise. I can’t say much more than what councillor Beamer said.”
Haacke supported reviewing the community grants application, and suggested that stable funding over three years would help organizations “become self-sustaining.”
“Oh man … I don’t know where to start, except that this is the reason that I got into politics,” councillor Bierk said in his comments. “We are around the table here, at a decision point, and we have the power to change something that from what we heard is quite obviously broken. The taxpayers have spoken. We’ve heard them tonight. They’ve spoken very eloquently about (what) they want their tax dollars to support.”
“What I’m interested in tonight is to use the power that we have to take to heart what we’ve heard, and find a way to fund The Theatre On King and find a way to fund the Artisans Centre. I think we can do that for less than $50,000 if that’s going to be a problem.”
Bierk then proposed a friendly amendment (which was accepted) to the first part of Crowley’s motion, proposing that only the two organizations that had appeared in front of council to appeal the denial of their grant applications — The Theatre On King and Artisans Centre Peterborough — receive funding, and that only $9,500 be provided to each organization.
Councillor Riel said it would be “a disservice to the 11 members of the committee” to question their decisions about the applications. He agreed the process should be reviewed and that more funds should be invested in the grants, but that should happen in the future.
“That’s to be looked at by this council going forward, not tonight,” Riel said. “We did our job, what we were asked to do for the community, and like I said unfortunately some people didn’t make the cut … I’m miffed a little bit. There should be a celebration tonight, of the people that did get money.”
In his comments, councillor Kevin Duguay said “I’m not prepared to forgo and forget the process that this council and previous councils ensure happens.”
“The only circumstance that I could identify after trying to read through all of this and based on past experience is that the applications filed didn’t make the cut,” he said. “We as a council, as a city, deeply, deeply care about the arts and culture. Deeply care. Councillor Beamer has raised some very important economic facts. You can’t dispute them. They’re facts.”
“I can’t and I’m not prepared to overlook a process that has served this community very well in the last 10 years,” Duguay said. “It has served us well and has resulted in one appeal to date that I’m aware of.”
In her comments, councillor Lachica expressed her support for Bierk’s amendment of Crowley’s motion.
“We’re talking about the merits of an appeal, and we’ve heard some compelling delegations,” Lachica said. “We heard how many delegations spoke to The Theatre On King as a cornerstone to the arts community and the range that it brings to our community, and the fact that they were in the highest funded category and then down to a zero category without any transparent explanation for that. That to me would merit an appeal.”
“This is an important moment for us to be a forward-thinking, future-thinking Peterborough, where people are compelled to come and to stay because of the richness of our community and that we create stable arts funding for the groups that keep our city alive culturally.”
Councillor Lesley Parnell said she would not support Crowley’s motion for funding for The Theatre On King and Artisans Centre Peterborough, saying the community investment grants were never intended as a means to provide stable funding to organizations beyond three years.
“This is a starter fund and you’re either going to make it or break it, and then some other new group will have the opportunity at this arts funding, or whatever the grant funding was,” Parnell said. “Three years and that’s it. Not 10 years. Not 20 years. Let other people have also have an opportunity because we have a lot of great people in our community with a lot of great ideas.”
“It’s very difficult to follow councillor Beamer — he’s so articulate and looking at the financials and stating the facts — but we also during COVID continued to fund all of these groups throughout. Whether they were active or not, every community grant recipient continued to receive their grants throughout the pandemic.”
“We do care about the arts,” Parnell said. “Myself, I was in drama club for seven years from public school through high school. I’ve been chair of (the city’s Arts and Culture Advisory Committee) and I totally agree that is one of the very important pillars in our community, as is many others. There are numerous pillars in this community that hold us together that employers look at, not just one segment. Arts, culture, and heritage is one that we do greatly invest in, as councillor Beamer has already mentioned as part of the report, almost $6 million a year.”
Councillor Bierk then asked Sheldon Laidman, the city’s commissioner of community services, to clarify the appeals process for the community investment grants.
“The appeals process is what you are viewing tonight,” Laidman said. “It’s really an opportunity to be a delegate in front of council and to express your concerns directly to council. I think the word ‘appeals’ might be too grandiose a title potentially.”
“But the appeals process is meant as what you’ve seen tonight — to appear in front of council and to provide input to council directly, and that’s what you are seeing tonight with two applications,” Laidman added.
Crowley’s motion, as amended by Bierk to provide $9,500 in funding to both The Theatre On King and Artisans Centre Peterborough, lost 3-7. Councillors Crowley, Bierk, and Lachica voted in favour with councillors Baldwin, Riel, Haacke, Beamer, Vassiliadis, Duguay, and Parnell voting against.
The second part of Crowley’s motion, to review the grant funding application and approval process, received unanimous support.
This story has been updated with minor corrections and to include photos of Ryan Kerr and Kate Story taken by Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay during the city council meeting.